For some reason, Ron has gotten into the habit of leaving the boys and me behind whenever our family heads down to North Carolina for the holidays.

He claims that Uncle Sam won’t give him more than a few days off, but I think he actually sneaks back home to go fishing.

That still leaves us stranded in the Tar Heel state with no wheels, a problem that is usually solved by one of my folks offering to drive us back.

We must have been even wilder than usual this time because nobody offered to do the job. Instead, they stuck us on a train on New Year’s Eve.

My father made a quick getaway at the Amtrak station in Raleigh, where he claimed there was no place to park.

We were all so excited about riding on a train that it took us a while to realize that traveling by railway requires a bit more work than taking an airplane.

First, we had to lug our own bags around, all 20 of them, or so it seemed. The bag that was stuffed with homemade goodies from my mom was the heaviest because there were jelly jars in it.

The bag was too heavy for me to lift, so for the rest of the day, I had to remind Jimmy not to forget about it. For some reason, we forgot to have Ron take the kids’ new snowboard back with him in the car, so that made us a wide as well as a heavy load.

The trip back home was definitely an adventure but most of all, it was a very long day.

My expectations were probably set too high because I had recently watched "The Polar Express."

There wasn’t any hot chocolate waiting for us when we stepped onto our train and tiptoed through a sleeper car. It was packed with snoozing teenage boys who smelled like old socks.

The next car, much to our relief, was empty and waiting for us.

For the next couple of hours, Jimmy, Tommy and Ronnie tried to spend as much time as possible walking around between train cars.

They decided the food served in the snack car wasn’t nearly as appealing as the journey back and forth. I can only assume they enjoyed the feeling of walking down the narrow aisles while balancing food and trying not to tumble into anyone’s lap.

I didn’t enjoy tilting and swaying among strangers quite so much, and instead decided to rely on my mom’s treats.

When the boys saw me chewing, they were suddenly hungry again and wanted to share. "Ya know, we can’t eat the whole day just to make the time go faster," I reminded them.

We did our best, however, especially during the two hours we had between trains in Richmond. By that time, we were so far north that winter weather had wrapped itself around us, bringing a storm of snow flurries.

I tried to interest the boys in a Clint Eastwood western that was heating up on TV, but they deemed it too "old" to be worth their time. I watched it anyway.

I gave the boys a little pep talk before we boarded that final train with those heavy bags dragging from our tired arms.

"Hey, when we unload these things, your daddy will be here to help us carry them," I said.

When I spotted Ron in Quantico, I was ready to turn not only the luggage over to him but also the job of watching the boys. And I had definitely decided to never again let him drive back home without us.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has been married to a Marine for 18 years and currently lives in Springfield, Va. You may e-mail her at or visit her Web site at

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